★ ★ ★ ★
The Last Soul
Biddy passes me her satchel. Using one of my iron hexapods, I place it on the kitchen table. Biddy emits a series of clicks using her mandibles.
I can understand her undulating vocalization, but I can’t seem to reproduce them myself. My iron body voice box is tinny and distorts communications. I resort to the language the flesh body, Arlan, taught us.
“You operating?” I ask, turning my attention to her bag.
She releases an affirmative squee.
The sound of metallic pads dragging over a decaying wood floor, followed by a whistle-whine, announces Jojo’s awake. Arlan’s mangy iron dog has escaped her owner again.
Biddy clicks for me to unload her bag.
I pull out scavenged items: cogs from old iron horses, optic illuminators, a flicker box, and surgical instruments.
Clank. Clank. It’s the sound of a mechanical horse coming down the main road.
Biddy skitters to the window.
“We’ve got trouble.”
I crab over and spot Connie. “What brought her to town?”
Sure enough, McClooney is hooting, hollering and firing her gun. Bullets zing and pop.
Biddy hisses and waves her antennae at me to stay by the door.
She scuttles out into the rain. I watch from the shadows.
Connie’s iron horse grinds to a halt.
“We got business, you offworld monster. I done went out to have a conversation with Arlan. But he ain’t got nothing to say seeing’s he’s dead.”
“Did you kill him?” asks Biddy.
“Wisht I was the one but nope. He were all bones.”
I telescope my illuminators for a better view. Connie’s missing her left foot.
“Is yer happy you killed our world with yer crash landing?”
Biddy chitters. “Why are you here?”
“I come fer what’s mine. Where’s the dog?” Connie demands. “Blood money for what Arlan done. He killed my only companion.”
“The dog needs to stay with me for a bit, then I’ll give her to you.”
“That ain’t the right answer.” Connie cocks her gun and fires.
I expect to Biddy crumple, but she’s still standing.
“That’s a warning. I won’t miss again.”
“Ready the self-destruct button on Connie’s horse,” Biddy says to me.
There is no such device, but I answer, “Got it.”
Connie lowers her weapon. She calls Biddy every ill-forsaken name before riding off.
Biddy returns. “Take Jojo to the kitchen. There’s one last operation I’ve got to perform.”
“I made a promise to Arlan.”
“What’s this about?”
“It’s better if I show you.”
Jojo’s put in sleep mode. Her metallic cranium is cracked open and a flicker box, white illuminators, and a crank on her neck are implanted.
“There is a high probability this will fail.”
I hear cogs tumbling. Grey shadows appear and dance on the illuminators. Jojo’s jaw opens and a tinny voice emanates.
Biddy squees. I lean in.
* * *
“Push hhhhharder, Cynthia! This here baby is popping in and out.”
“I’s trying, Arlan.”
“The offworlder done warn me that Connie and her gal pal are a-coming. I can’t be birthing babies.”
“You ain’t birthing! And you shouldn’ta shot off her iron foot.”
“I had to. She was trying to hurt Jojo. Ain’t that right, ggggggirl?”
I crank the side handle on Jojo’s neck. The recording sputters forward.
“A baby’s being born!” I shout. Arlan told me about babies but I’d never seen one.
Nose to nose, forehead to forehead, I am deep in the dog’s eyes.
I watch a belly rising and falling, naked and exposed in the lamplight. So, that’s how babies are born.
Then I gasp. There’s a close-up of the real, live Jojo. Her head floats by as she moves towards the bed.
When Biddy clicks, “That’s not just any baby,” I glance up and stare into her eye clusters. She nods and says that’s me.
“I was born? I’m from here?”
“Yes, the last one,” she says.
“The last one,” I repeat over and over. Then, it hits me.
I had a flesh body, and parents. We were a family with a dog.
Arlan’s voice cracks. “For the love of all metalmaggots, push! Trouble’s here.”
A gun battle ensues. I can hear bullets popping followed by an explosion.
“I done blew up Connie’s gal!” I hear Arlan say.
Ma’s whispering. Arlan’s tearful voice says, “I will, darling. I’ll take ’em to the offworlder.”
The recording sputters and goes blank.
* * *
“I always thought I was yours.” I move away.
Biddy closes Jojo’s mouth. “There aren’t any more memories.”
“Why didn’t you or Arlan tell me?”
“Your father brought me a dying babe and dog. I was successful putting flesh bodies into iron. But, yours was so fragile, and the dog’s was barely retrievable. I performed an experiment and put you together. I didn’t know if it would work or if there would be side effects.”
“You joined us? Jojo and I?”
“It was the only way,” she says.
“Arlan kept the dog. And, you made me to look like you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
The sound of distant thunder and cracks of split lightning illuminate the room. Another storm is coming.
Biddy sighs. She calls for Jojo. I grab hold of the dog. “Whatcha going to do with her?” I snap.
“I’m not keeping her,” says Biddy.
“You’re gonna give her to Connie?”
“Why? Jojo and I are . . .”
“Connie’s coming back.” Biddy’s mandibles click.
“A dog’s not worth dying for.”
“You can’t separate us. She’s family.”
A shadow limps across the front room window.
Bullets zing. Biddy’s blue blue splatters the wall. Her legs fold under her.
More bullets. Jojo jumps in front of me.
Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.
She collapses beside me. I hear Connie laughing through the window.
“I got my blood money! Now, yer get to be all alone for the next hundred years. Yer iron-clad vermin.”
She totters away.
I lower myself and hug Jojo. She thumps her tail once. Our systems shut down together.
Claire Lawrence is a storyteller and visual artist living in British Columbia, Canada. She has been published in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and India. Her work has been performed on BBC radio. Claire’s stories have appeared in numerous publications including: Geist, Litro, Ravensperch, Brilliant Flash Fiction. She has a number of prize winning stories, and was nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. Claire’s artwork has appeared in many magazines including: A3 Review and Press, Black Lion Journal, Esthetic Apostle, Sunspot and La Piccioletta Barca. Her goal is to create and publish in all genres, and not inhale too many fumes.
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